How to Take Smart Notes | Sönke Ahrens

Summary of: How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers
By: Sönke Ahrens


Dive into the fascinating world of taking smart notes and discover the incredible technique that can boost your writing, learning, and thinking abilities. This book summary of ‘How to Take Smart Notes’ by Sönke Ahrens sheds light on the power of the Zettelkasten (slip-box) method, employed by the highly accomplished German sociologist, Niklas Luhmann. Learn the art of making different types of notes systematically, creating a personal slip-box, connecting related ideas, and using these notes effectively to enhance your learning and writing process. Get ready to unlock the hidden potential of simple yet impactful ideas that can transform your academic, professional, and personal life.

Smart Note-Taking: The Key to Great Achievements

The story of Niklas Luhmann, a German man who became a celebrated sociologist despite lacking a formal degree, is a testament to the power of smart note-taking. Luhmann’s passion for reading and note-taking culminated in his slip-box system, which helped him remain focused and in control, leading to an impressive body of work that included nearly 60 books and groundbreaking theories in sociology. His approach was simple but effective, relying on the power of smart notes to achieve great achievements. This summary offers insights into Luhmann’s process, demonstrating that success isn’t necessarily the result of extraordinary intelligence but rather the result of a systemic and smart working strategy.

The Zettelkasten Method

The Zettelkasten method is a powerful note-taking system used by prolific writer and sociologist Luhmann. This analog system involves keeping notes on index cards in a slip-box made of wood. However, modern technology has made it possible to replicate this system digitally. The key message of this system is to take three types of notes: fleeting, literature, and permanent. Fleeting notes are simply for capturing ideas and thoughts, kept in one place for future reference. Literature notes are about what you read, kept in a reference slip-box. Permanent notes arise from your fleeting and literature notes and should be written using full sentences in your own words. They should be brief, precise, and concise and stored in the primary slip-box. Lastly, use keywords and links to create an index and connect related notes. This system helps you develop your ideas and arguments, making it easier to organize and access your thoughts.

The Power of the Slip-Box

In his book, Niklas Luhmann explains his unique method of compiling notes through an abstract numbering system that allows for easy connections and organization. This method makes it easy to develop ideas and arguments for writing papers by providing a ready-made argument for students and researchers. The slip-box method takes time to build up, but it helps in externalizing ideas, understanding material, and remembering content. Clusters of ideas can help in determining the topic to write about. Once relevant notes and connections are collected, they can be used to create the first draft of a paper with ease. Finally, one can edit and proofread to ensure quality work. The slip-box is a powerful tool for information organization and making connections between ideas.

Writing Strategies for Success

Learn how to break down complex writing tasks into smaller, more manageable goals by following the advice of successful writers.

Anthony Trollope was a prolific novelist, credited with completing 49 books in just 35 years. His secret was to write 250 words every 15 minutes from 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. If you’re tackling a dissertation or other large written work, writing just one page a day, with one day off each week, is a more realistic goal that can still lead to success.

Nonfiction and academic writing requires more than just writing. There’s research, reading, and thinking that goes into the process. Instead of measuring progress by words per day, consider taking notes each day. Luhmann, a German sociologist, wrote an average of six notes a day and added 90,000 notes to his slip-box over his lifetime. Even writing just three notes a day can lead to a wealth of ideas and connections.

Taking notes is a form of self-testing. Writing helps you distance yourself from your thoughts, allowing you to think more critically and rationally. Externalizing your thoughts on paper also helps you see gaps in your thinking. By breaking down complex tasks into smaller goals, you can more easily tackle overwhelming projects.

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